Today we’d like to introduce you to Olivia Sy.
Olivia, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
There’s a saying that growth is optional when change is inevitable. In high school, I used to be a pretty terrible person who was purposefully rude, ignorant and oblivious to a lot of the world’s issues around me. It was only until I started cleaning up beaches, vending churros at grade school festivals, breaking down boxes at food banks, and really listening to stories from people outside my circles that I reframed my mindset. I took a long, hard look at the privileges I had now and understood that I could do a lot more than get A’s on exams. I made a decision to work hard for the sake of serving my communities and finding a way to bridge my values with my love for the arts.
Throughout college, I ambitiously tried to input meaning to my work at even the smallest degree. I wanted to do more than craft pretty illustrations or finesse small details of a poster design. To me, design is meant to communicate a specific interpretation of a message, no matter how many layers deep. I truly felt like my work, my contributions, and my collaborations ultimately needed a message towards solving problems beyond selling a product. I wanted design to be human-centered and beyond, helping people comprehend each other’s needs with systems that speak to them.
In many ways, these kinds of conceptual projects brought me to work at verynice, a design and strategy consultancy in Downtown LA that focuses on social impact and innovation design for all. At verynice, I felt fulfilled in giving back to groups in need through my design work, and witness that work done impacting the lives of so many non-profit organizations and small business groups. I even had the chance to serve the very organization that got me into community service, Heal The Bay, helping to redesign and refresh their website in UI web design and illustration.
Fairly soon, I will continue volunteering my time as a designer and general do-gooder to get more in touch with the people I help with. I find that much of what I learned working as a designer in the non-profit sphere is wanting to do more than designing helpful systems, but being a more hands-on active part of the movements of today.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
While it has not been a smooth road, I don’t believe that I have had as tough of a journey as many others running on the same path. I do believe I was lucky to be in a high school that wanted to teach their students how to think beyond reading their textbooks, and burst the bubbles created out of our privileges. And I’m fortunate that I could recognize issues as a queer woman of color with friends that supported each other in all those aspects.
Most of my struggle stemmed from my depression growing up in a difficult religious family, severe social anxieties I tried to shrug off, and anger management issues. Eventually, I went to therapy and even discovered a label that encompassed much of my current state of being as chronic passive suicidal ideation. When these conditions began to grow more out of control, this impacted my support circle over and over, creating a pattern of lost patience, motivation, help, and will to live. And despite how nihilistic my take seems, maintaining wellness is an ongoing challenge that will continue to exist like an ocean’s tides day to day.
I could complain more about how I used to travel intensely for 6 hours to unpaid gigs daily, often doing work for free with fear that someone would never hire me again. I could complain that it probably contributed to my mental health overall. But I also learned a lot about myself in all of those rough patches, really appreciating how hard